U.S. must help the prince fill king’s shoes

Jordanian King Hussein’s death on Feb. 7 was tragic, but the tragedy has the potential for becoming much greater. The United States should work with, not against, the late King Hussein’s eldest son Crown Prince Abdullah Hussein in his quest to continue his father’s legacy.
The then-King Hussein was remarkable for his peacemaking efforts in a historically troubled area. Sandy Berg, national security adviser, said “the importance of King Hussein to Jordan and the region can hardly be overstated.” He was uniquely able to deal with both sides of any conflict, without angering either one. During the Gulf War, Jordan was the only country to maintain friendly relations with both the United States and Iraq. Jordan is also one of the few Middle East states to have peaceful dealings with Israel.
In living up to this legacy, the late King Hussein’s son faces a number of challenges. King Abdullah is relatively young — only 37 years old. While the former king began ruling at the age of 17, that was almost 50 years ago, and Jordan has modernized in many ways since then. Abdullah lacks experience in the economic and social arenas. While by all accounts Abdullah is intelligent and willing to learn, he has spent his entire adult life serving with the military.
Additionally, up until a short time ago, the former king was planning on being succeeded by his brother, Prince Hassan. He changed his mind only a few weeks before his death.
The new king will have to strike a difficult balance between the old and the new. Eliminating everyone from his father’s government would appear vicious and immature. However, making no or few changes would look fearful and weak. Abdullah will need to carefully consider his first few moves. The actions Abdullah has taken so far indicate that he, like his father, is willing to work with opposing viewpoints, a promising sign.
King Abdullah’s youth and inexperience are also likely to cause Jordan troubles internationally. Jordan’s neighbors, among them Iraq, are likely to try to take advantage of the new leader.
The United States should take a long-term view and publicly demonstrate its support for King Abdullah and his ability to lead Jordan. Since he is likely to lead until death, much like his father, it would be counterproductive to make an enemy for decades.
In the short term, we can accomplish these ends by meeting with Abdullah, and consulting with him on issues relevant to the Middle East. These actions will both strengthen the bond between our nations and help to bolster King Abdullah’s power. Jordan is a valuable ally to the United States. We should ensure that King Abdullah feels the United States is a valuable ally to Jordan.
There is no reason to believe Abdullah is unfit to rule Jordan. His only flaws are youth and inexperience, which can in time be replaced by age and wisdom. The next few months will be very important in determining the new Jordan’s relationship with the rest of the world. Now is the time for the United States to support King Abdullah, and send a message that we believe he will be a strong, peace-loving leader, just like his father.